Tom Stevens, bassist for the Los Angeles rock band the Long Ryders, a key group in the so-called “Paisley Underground” scene of the 1980s, died on January 24, according to an announcement from the band. No cause of death was cited; he was 64.
While the group, heavily influenced by Gram Parsons, the Byrds, Bob Dylan and other country-rock pioneers, released just three albums and an EP during their 1980s heyday, they were an early purveyor of the genre later dubbed Americana and represented the rootsier side of the Paisley Underground, along with bands like Green on Red. the more psychedelic side was held down by the Rain Parade — whose guitarist, David Roback, went on to form Opal and Mazzy Star and passed away last year — the Three O’Clock and others.
Born in Indiana, Stevens was classically trained and received scholarship offers from colleges to study double bass but chose rock instead. He joined a local hard rock group called Magi, which developed a strong regional following and released an album in 1976 before moving to Los Angeles. However, the group’s sound was out of step with the post-punk of the late 1970s and they split up. Stevens worked at local record stores, networked around the scene and released a solo EP. After hearing that the Long Ryders, whose debut EP he knew from the record store, had parted ways with their bassist, local singer Carla Olson recommended him and he officially joined singer-guitarists Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy as well as drummer Greg Sowders in the band early in 1984.
After releasing their “Native Sons” album on the indie Frontier Records in 1984, the group toured the U.S. and Europe extensively — American rock bands of the era were enthusiastically covered by the British music press — and signed with major label Island and released “State of Our Union” the following year. The album featured a bigger sound and disappointed some longtime fans but generally received positive reviews and did well at college radio. However, the group was harshly criticized for doing a Miller Beer commercial in 1986 — a controversial move for purist rock fans of the era — and never quite recovered. Despite releasing a strong album, “Two Fisted Tales,” in 1987, commercial success eluded them and they split at the end of the year.
Stevens, who had guested with Olson and Byrds cofounder Gene Clark as well as other L.A. area groups, moved back to Indiana in 1988, raised a family and got a degree in computer science and worked in that field; he also released several solo albums. From 2004, the Long Ryders reunited for gigs or brief tours before regrouping for a full-blown album and tour in 2019. The album, aptly titled “Psychedelic Country Soul,” reunited the group with producer Ed Stasium (who’d also helmed “Two Fisted Tales”) and former scene-mates the Bangles, who sang backing vocals, and found the group coming full circle.
Below: the Long Ryders in the mid-1980s, L-R: Greg Sowders, Tom Stevens, Stephen McCarthy, Sid Griffin
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